I wasn’t sure what to expect from the “Write All Night” Scavenger Hunt in the New York Public Library on Friday night, but it was highly coincidental (providential?) that we were to be locked in the landmarked building on the night the world was going to end (cf. The Day After Tomorrow [movie] + The Rapture). But at 8pm the big brass doors were closed and 500 of us were en route to an epic adventure. Working in small groups, we were tasked to find 100 of the treasures inside the New York Public Library, including the Gutenberg Bible, the Declaration of Independence, Winnie the Pooh, a Sumerian tablet, the map of Drake’s Voyage, Jack Kerouac’s harmonica, Charles Dickens’ cat paw…then we were prompted to write stories or draw pictures inspired by those objects. Some of the tasks involved performance. One guy wrote a new declaration of independence, got atop one of the library tables and proclaimed it. We then signed the document.

Famed game designer Jane McGonigal designed the hunt, which was a multi-media event: QR codes, phone apps and a website. According to Jane, we would be the “first game in the world where winning means writing a book,” and the first group to spend overnight in the library. Each object represented “people who stood up in an important moment in history and said something that had never been said before or created something that had never been created before.” She finished by saying, “I think I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.”

Jane addressing us via megaphone

Pages of text were printed out when we submitted our stories online.  Handwritten stories or drawings were scanned in and printed. A book binder worked all night to make a book of our writings that would be placed permanently in the New York Public Library Collection. Apparently he was the only book binder up for the challenge to compile it in real time. When I saw him, he had just recovered from a bit of a panic. The book wasn’t finished by the end of the night, but we all did get to sign our John Hancocks.

The book binder

During the night, we could go almost anywhere in the library. We were given a tour of the stacks, of which only 30 people have access. The stacks actually go down 7 stories under Bryant Park. There was food and drinks provided all night long, including Red Bull, coffee and Vitamin Water. Each of us were written postcards (from the future) which were scattered throughout the library and reading room. We had to find one and attempt to deliver it to the recipient.

It was like the first day of camp. We seemed to come from all over the creative fields. Photographers, videographers, writers, musicians…some arrived in costume. Some were avid gamers, others like me took a while to understand the gaming language. In the end, just being in such an amazing architectural and historical space kept me awake through the night without caffeine. And on the way home, I took a walk through a very quiet Times Square.

Here are some additional photographs to give you a sense of the night and the space:

Entry to the reading room:

The lion was with us all night long:

Getting our initial instructions:

Jane rallying the groups on our side of the reading room:

Kerouac’s belongings, including notebook and harmonica:

One of the public telephone booths in the building:

My group, “Team Primo,” working hard:

The checklist of artifacts:

The man who orated his new declaration of independence, atop a table. Many library rules were broken that night:

Old book inside the stacks:

One of the teams made this poster of “Find the Future” written in more than a dozen languages:

The scene at 5:30am:

Walking out of the library when it was finished:

The game continues online at  Find the Future.

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.